The first step for anyone working to protect children, especially in the context of migration, should be listening to their needs, desires, and plans for the future.

The need to listen to children and consider their views was one of the key messages delivered by Msgr. Robert J. Vitillo, Secretary General of the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) in Athens on 14 March.

Msgr. Vitillo, a social worker by training, spoke at the Intergovernmental Consultations on Migration, Asylum, and Refugees (IGC). His intervention focused on lessons that social work practice can contribute to the determination of what actions are in the children’s best interest.

Msgr. Vitillo highlighted two essential values of social work practice: belief in the uniqueness and inherent dignity of the person, and belief in the person’s right to self-determination. These values should always be taken into consideration when dealing with children, especially with unaccompanied and separated children in the context of migration.

Msgr. Vitillo reminded participants that children in migration are first and foremost children and should be treated as such. Their best interest should always be the primary consideration in all actions concerning them.

Building a bridge between social work practice and the assessment of children’s best interest, he urged participants to keep in mind that children have a right to express their views freely in all matters affecting them. They also have the right to have their opinions taken into consideration in accordance with their age, maturity, and understanding of the available options.

The IGC is an informal forum for the exchange of information and policy debate on issues relevant to the management of international migratory flows. The IGC brings together 17 states and the UN Refugee and Migration agencies (UNHCR and IOM).

The 13-15 March meeting in Athens addressed specific challenges and best practices related to best interest determination procedures for unaccompanied and separated minors.

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